‘My God, It’s Full Of Stars’
Read Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s poems influenced by science.
by Tracy K. Smith
When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.
He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled
To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise
As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.
We learned new words for things. The decade changed.
The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—
So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.
by Tracy K. Smith
200 cows more than 600 hilly acres
property would have been even larger
had J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed
did not want to sell
but needed money poor health
Not long after the sale cattle began to act
footage shot on a camcorder
grainy intercut with static
Images jump repeat sound accelerates
quality of a horror movie
the rippling shallow water the white ash
trees shedding their leaves
a large pipe
discharging green water
a skinny red cow
hair missing back humped
a dead black calf in snow its eye
a brilliant chemical blue
a calf’s bisected head
liver heart stomachs kidneys
gall bladder some dark some green
cows with stringy tails malformed hooves
lesions red receded eyes suffering slobbering
staggering like drunks
It don’t look like
anything I’ve been into before
Excerpt from “My God, It’s Full of Stars” from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. Excerpt from “Watershed” from Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2019 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Tracy K. Smith is the U.S. Poet Laureate. She is author of several books including Wade In The Water (Graywolf, 2019) and Life On Mars (Graywolf, 2011). She is also director and professor in the Creative Writingprogram at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.